Sunday, 15 December 2013

I was a stranger and you made me welcome ...

As part of our community agreement, we have made an active commitment to volunteering in the city:

"Living as a Christian Community allows us to experience the love of God and the love of others, a love which inspires us to a ministry of service. Our community must be outward looking and mindful of the poor." 

As part of that commitment, I spend one day a week teaching English at St Chad's Sanctuary, a centre supporting refugees and asylum seekers.

I have wanted to write a post about St Chad's Sanctuary for a while. It has proved more difficult than I anticipated. There have been numerous false starts, and even now, I am not entirely convinced by the results. But at some point I just have to click publish and hope it makes some kind of sense.

I think the difficulty lies here: my day a week at St Chad's is a life-giving and positive experience. I want to write in celebration of something which I have come to value very highly. But those who come to St Chad's are among the most vulnerable of our society: people who have lived horrific experiences in their home countries, and who continue to suffer trials and exclusion here. How do I write of my joy in being with them, without appearing to glory in their suffering? How do I explain why a place where my students' descriptions of their lives can bring me close to tears, is a place of joy and life?

My students come from all over the world. Most have very little and they have often left much behind. Often they have come alone, leaving their families and bringing only their fears for their wellbeing. But for all their struggles, they are on average, the most motivated students I have ever taught, coming as they do with a deep desire to learn, to be able to be part of society here, and with a belief that something better is possible.

Perhaps ultimately, my love for St Chad's Sanctuary is very simple. It is a place that gives me life because it is a place of hope. In spite of everything in their past and their present, my students are people of hope. Perhaps because they know what real suffering looks like, they also know the meaning of true hope: a hope which is tangible, even if it is hard to explain. And I feel hugely privileged that they are able to share a part of that hope with me.

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